Brexit: social and equality impacts

This independent report focuses on some of the potential social and equality impacts of Brexit.

Research Methods

The Scottish Government commissioned Dr Eve Hepburn to produce a think piece on the possible impact of Brexit, in its different forms, on different groups of people in Scotland. The analysis was to include a focus on equalities groups, examining the potential implications of Brexit for the employment, public services and spending prospects of individuals and communities. The work was commissioned in September 2019, and a draft report was produced at the end of that month. The project was then extended to November 2019 to include an analysis of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. Finally, the report was updated following the results of the UK General Election on 12 December and the passage of the revised EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill through the UK Parliament in January 2020.

Aims of Research

The research seeks to provide an overview of the social impacts of Brexit on individuals and communities. It is intended to complement economic analyses of Brexit, which tend to focus on impacts on businesses, the economy and GDP. The report also complements the Brexit Vulnerability Index, which focussed on implications for local-level geographical communities and was published by the Scottish Government on 9 October 2019.[7]

This research focuses on people. It examines how Brexit may affect the daily lives of individuals in Scotland, with a particular focus on people with less privilege in society. The research is divided into a number of sections that explore:

  • general social impacts of the UK's decision to leave the EU to date;
  • potential impacts of three different types of Brexit: (a) a 'hard' Brexit (as currently proposed by the UK Government); (2) a 'softer' Brexit; and (3) a 'no-trade deal' Brexit;
  • different types of Brexit-related impacts on the lives of individuals, including their (1) legal rights; (2) access to public services and funding; and (3) employment, housing and consumer spending;
  • 137 Brexit-related impacts on 20 equalities groups in Scotland;
  • people's resilience to these different potential impacts.


The research uses qualitative methods, including the analysis of primary and secondary documents, to examine the impact of Brexit on different groups of people. Due to the short timeframe of this project (23 days of work), the research relies on a desk-based rapid review of the evidence base. This includes the analysis of over 50 reports (produced by civil society organisations, government departments, parliament libraries and think tanks across Scotland and the UK), EU and UK legislation, academic research (articles, blogs) and news articles.

The Author

Dr Eve Hepburn FRSA founded the policy research consultancy PolicyScribe in 2017 after spending fifteen years in academia. Eve is an Academic Fellow at the Scottish Parliament and an Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh Europa Institute. She has authored nine books and over 50 refereed journal articles and book chapters. She has held academic positions at universities throughout Europe and North America, and was most recently Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh.

Limitations and Further Research

This research is by no means intended to be comprehensive. Instead, it is a first attempt to develop an overview of the different types of impact that Brexit may have on social and equalities groups in Scotland, given the lack of a sector-by-sector UK Government Equalities Impact Assessment of Brexit. Further research may seek to focus in more depth on specific equalities groups, by conducting primary research with individuals and communities (interviews, focus groups, community consultations) as well as stakeholders (civil society organisations, service providers) to gauge the nature and depth of different Brexit-related impacts, and how any adverse impacts may be mitigated as Brexit commences. It is hoped, however, that this research provides a starting point for further discussion on the social and equality impacts of Brexit.

The descriptions of legislation in this report are intended to provide a broad narrative to set the context for the analysis. They represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect any interpretation of legislation by the Scottish Government.



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